TL;DR I built a Chrome Extension that forces my layout of choice for Google Docs, all thanks to the escape hatches that extensions give you on the Web!
I admit to having a lil bit of OCD when it comes to my digital life. Seemingly small UI and UX choices irk my brain, and I spend a lot of time in Settings and Preferences tweaking my experience.
It’s because of this that I get frustrated when products don’t have the ability to tweak and change, often on purpose, claiming “a great product shouldn’t need complicated settings!”
I disagree. I want escape hatches, and all humans aren’t the same (nor use the product in the same way), especially for tools that you spend significant time in.
Back in 2010, I got to work on the “official” Facebook app, for webOS. One of the great side effects here, was that we were able to sneak in a slew of power user features, and have keyboard shortcuts for everything.
One of my ticks shows up in Google Docs. I rarely print documents, and thus rarely see the need for the notion of “pages”. For some reason, elves get into my computer and turn on “View => Print Layout”, even though I was constantly turning it off. Even when off, I don’t like the “——-” page break.
I knew I wasn’t the only one, as one way to bug Ben is to have this turned on as you go through something together, and then I saw this:
It was time to fix this…. once and for all!
Die, Print Layout, Die!
I have been enjoying building extensions recently so I fired up VS Code to create another one Die, Print Layout, Die, (open source code here) which simply makes sure to force off Print Layout mode when loading a document, and kills the page break.
Not only do I sleep better at night, not worrying over the elves and if they are messing with my layout, but this made my day:
Escape hatches FTW
I am very thankful that the Web has these escape hatches that enable the ecosystem to evolve products outside of the product development team.
This week, the local school district banned the use of Zoom, and my kids meetings were all moved to Google Meet. As this happened, teachers were emailing parents asking them to install the Google Meet Grid View extension so the kids could all see each other.
There are trade offs on allowing this type of power, which is why we are looking to rebalance them via the next iteration of extensions (manifest v3). Grid view is an awesome feature, but the extension isn’t able to implement it as efficiently as the team itself, and this is often the case. However, it fills a gap and hopefully gets into the core product some time soon.
Once you get used to the power and extensibility, you feel constrained on platforms that don’t enable this kind of flexibility.
And when you get used to the flexibility, you look to extensions as a way to find functionality: